Several of my friends choose to write in cafés where they also people watch. I confess, I’m not conscious of spending time specifically people watching – perhaps it’s so automatic that I’m just not aware of it.
The main characters in my novels are always products of my imagination. What interests me is their personalities. I know how they will react in any given situation (though they can surprise me now and again) and what they are likely to be thinking, but I have no clear picture of what they look like. I’d recognise them as they walked away from me by the way they held themselves and I could recognise their voices, but I have no clear picture of what they look like. (All I know is that Fiona is short, Peter is tall, thin with a military bearing, Aunt Jessica is in her seventies, statuesque and deliberate in her actions and Harry is in his thirties and average height and build.) If that sounds strange, I do know other writers who admit they would not recognise their protagonists sitting in a crowded room.
That said, I’m just back from another lecture cruise and I realise that I do need to picture my minor characters and perhaps holidays are the places when I see people and notice characteristics that become woven into my stories. As I write holiday mysteries, I suppose there is a logic to that.
One of the things I particularly enjoy on a cruise is meeting people. When we go for dinner in the evening, we always ask to share a table with other guests. Social distancing has obviously made a difference this last couple of cruises as only families and close friends could sit at the same table. We managed to talk across the gap several times, but it was very different.
Last month, I wrote about my two back-to-back cruises around the British when, because I was a lecturer, my husband and I were not allowed off the ship either as independent travellers or on the ship’s tours. That was not the case this last time which was to Malta and Croatia with a different cruise company. My husband and I both volunteered to act as escorts on the tours which was a great way to meet people.
There was a lot more testing on the ship. All passengers had to take a PCR test every morning and have our temperatures taken plus we had to wear a dongle to identify if we’d been in contact with anyone who proved to test positive. Thankfully, no one did. There were four lecturers on board, and we did have dinner together a couple of times and were able to socialise more generally around the ship.
Considering there was only three weeks between the two cruises, it’s surprising how different they were. We enjoyed them both. On the first, we were able to relax, and it was a wonderful change of scene after so long confined at home. The second cruise could not have been more different. There were only two lecturers on the first cruise, and four on the second – each with four lecturers in the ten day cruise! With tours and lectures, it was full on, and we were on the go the whole time. No time to watch any films as we’d done on the first cruise. Whereas on the British Isles cruise, all the passengers were British residents, on the second, the passengers were predominantly from America. All three of my fellow lecturers were US citizens although one was born in Cuba, and another lived in Germany.
I’m not sure that either cruise has proved useful in terms of giving my ideas for any of my subsidiary characters. Perhaps when I start writing the next book, one or two my come to mind.
There was one rather annoying woman who plonked herself behind me on the tender boat over to Gozo on the last day. She kept shouldering her back into mine trying to get me to move. Why she chose to sit behind me when she had a whole empty bench and I was sitting on the end of row of people, heaven knows. Though quite how that would fit into one of my stories, I have no idea.
I’ve only been home twenty-four hours but I’m already hankering to go away again. However, it’s time to get back to rewriting ‘Peril in Persia’. At this rate it won’t get published this year. Because I was so busy re-writing my lectures right up until we went away, the house is a tip, and I’ve lots of jobs to do. It might be several days before I force myself to open up the manuscript and get down to business. I hope to be sending out a request for beta readers at the end of the month. If those of you who are interested would like to email me, it might just spur me on!